THE REFUGE (2019)
Keith Sutliff made his feature debut as a writer/director with 2017’s The Mason Brothers. An above average variation on Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, (or Ringo Lam’s City On Fire to be more accurate) it was a promising debut. Now he’s back with The Refuge, about a getaway driver who finds himself in over his head when a heist goes wrong.
Markus Hunter (Keith Sutliff) is a driver/hired gun based out of Los Angeles. The film begins with him sitting alone in his car, a voice on the phone informing him, “You’re fucking dead!”. The screen then fades, and we see him again on the phone, this time in an apartment taking instructions for a job. Then we follow him as he does it.
We get nearly ten minutes of Hunter driving around LA. Mostly, he’s following a van that doesn’t seem to notice him tailing it all over the city. This is something you would expect somebody hauling seven figures worth of cash to keep an eye out for. It’s beautifully shot, especially the aerial footage, but it’s dull. The closest we get to action is him picking up a wrench as he leaves the car.
He soon gets a call from an old partner, Frank (Julien Cesario, Close Range). It seems an old accomplice of his, Vernon Boyd (Tien Pham, Haunted Boat, Kung Fu Pho) recently got out of jail. He promptly stole $12 million from a casino. He also owes Frank his share of the loot from a job they did before Vernon went to jail. And Markus is just the man to help remedy that. Of course, things go wrong and soon plenty of folks are after Markus and his associates. Including Staci (Reine Swart, The Lullaby, The Hex) the only person he cares about besides himself.
The Refuge is a frustrating film. It has a solid plot and some excellent acting. But it spends too much time on things that just aren’t that interesting. Endless sequences of Marcus planning his routes and driving. And not Bullit style chases either, just driving around finding the right route, etc. LA is a beautiful city and the scenes are wonderfully shot, but there’s way too many of them.
As a crime drama, The Refuge is interesting. All the preparation and deals that go into pulling off a heist is something we don’t often see in modern films. But this is 90% set up and very little payoff. And the fact there are no car chases is a huge disappointment. If you’re looking for any kind of action for that matter, you’ll be disappointed.
Depending on what you’re looking for, The Refuge will either interest or disappoint you. I found the behind the scenes of a heist stuff interesting enough. And the night scenes of LA are beautifully done and made me want to go back. But given what Markus does for a living, the lack of car chases or action scenes frustrated me. I’m giving it a right up the middle 3 stars. But with a little more, it could easily have been a 4 or 5. Keith Sutliff has talent and potential, he just needs the right budget and script to show it off.